Disability-Inclusive Elections Week in Ukraine
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) recognized disability rights in political life in Ukraine through “Disability-Inclusive Elections Week” from March 11-18, 2016. Activities included a Building Resources in Democracy, Governance, and Elections (BRIDGE) training on disability rights and gender, a guest lecture at Kyiv-Mohlya Academy, a conference on elections and disability rights, and a set of high-level meetings with government and nongovernmental stakeholders. “Disability-Inclusive Elections Week” highlighted IFES’ expanding portfolio in Ukraine in the field of access to and inclusion in election processes.
IFES Program Manager for Global Access and Inclusion Virginia Atkinson and IFES Ukraine Chief of Party Peter Erben met with Valeriy Sushkevych, Ukrainian President’s Commissioner for Rights of People with Disabilities, Mykhaylo Ohendovskyi, Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman, Volodymyr Andriyenko, Head of the International Department of the CEC, and Nataliia Skripka, Executive Director of the National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities (NAPD), as well as members of the ATO Veterans Organization.
Several key themes were discussed during the week. These themes included the need to focus on implementation and enforcement of disability rights laws; voting alongside fellow citizens; barriers to participation of women with disabilities in the political process who face stigma both because of their gender and their disability; and access to persons with disabilities affected by conflict, such as veterans and displaced persons.
Students from Kyiv-Mohlya Academy participate in a discussion on the implementation of inclusive political processes in Ukraine.
The BRIDGE pilot module, a four-day training, included representatives from the CEC, as well as disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs) and civil society organizations. Sessions focused on the intersection of disability rights and gender while also carving out time specifically to discuss barriers and opportunities for each topic.
Atkinson gave a guest lecture at Kyiv-Mohlya Academy to students studying at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Social Technologies’ political science department. After providing a brief background on international best practices of disability rights inclusion in political processes, students were asked to play a game in which they rated the implementation of international standards in Ukraine. Students also discussed barriers to access of persons with disabilities to political life in Ukraine.
The Elections and Disability Rights Conference, co-organized by NAPD, highlighted efforts made by government stakeholders and DPOs in Ukraine to engage persons with disabilities in public life. Panels covered topics such as barriers to access and strategies for increasing inclusion. A number of DPOs, such as the Civic Organization of Blind Lawyers and the Ukrainian Society of the Deaf, presented on their experiences, emphasizing access to information as a critical component of inclusion of persons with disabilities in elections. Iveta Chelishvili, a member of the Central Election Commission of Georgia, provided a detailed report of best practices and lessons learned to increase electoral participation of persons with disabilities in Georgia.